Poinsettia: December Houseplant of the Month

Standard

What you first notice about the poinsettia are the beautifully colored leaves. They’re often thought to be the flowers, but are actually bracts that form a star shape around the true flowers, which are small and yellow, clustered in the center.

The classic red poinsettia is familiar, but trending for December 2019 are modern pastel colors such as salmon, pink, lemon and apricot. It’s an instant mood maker for the holidays and thereafter, because this winter bloomer provides a colourful start to 2020. 

Origin

The poinsettia or Christmas star (Euphorbia pulcherrima) originates from Mexico and Central America, where it grows as a deciduous shrub that can reach a height of 12 feet (4 meters). The plant blooms outdoors from November to February and loses its leaves entirely during the heat of the summer.

The Aztecs considered the plant to be holy; they called it Cuitlaxochitl. 

Poinsettia Assortment

Mini-poinsettias

The poinsettia is a “short day” plant: its star-shaped bracts take on color when the days get shorter, which coincides nicely with the Christmas period in the northern hemisphere. The range is constantly expanding, and poinsettia is offered from mini and standard sizes through to hanging plants and tree shapes. The main colors are red and white, while new colors such as lilac, salmon, cream and bicolored poinsettias are catching on quickly. 

Increasingly, merchants create what they see as added value by decorating the bracts with glitter, dyes or other decorative treatments. Be careful: sometimes these additions are bit garish!

The appealing bracts mean that the plant offers unlimited opportunities to create atmosphere in the run-up to Christmas.

What to Look for When Buying a Poinsettia 

Poinsettias come in all sizes and colors.
  • The pot size and number of bracts should be in proportion, and the plant must be mature enough to show good color.
  • There is a choice of single-headed plants, minis, topped or branched plants, standards of various heights and hanging plants.
  • They must all be free of pests and diseases; particularly check for the presence of whiteflies on the underside of the leaves.
  • Damaged bracts or foliage are usually caused during shipping or storage, particularly if temperatures are too low.
  • Yellow leaves indicate too little moisture, while the loss of buds in the center of the “flower” is a sign of insufficient light.

Care Tips 

If you accidentally break off a stem, use it as a cut flower!
  • The poinsettia is very cold sensitive, so make sure it is carefully wrapped at purchase for the trip home.
  • It likes a bright spot in the home, but doesn’t need full sun during the winter.
  • The soil should always be slightly damp.
  • The plant cannot cope with drafts or very warm locations, such as above the radiator or next to a crackling log fire.
  • If your poinsettia’s leaves turn yellow and drop off, you should place the plant in a cooler and lighter spot and increase the atmospheric humidity. That should perk it back up.
  • Fertilizer is only useful if you intend to keep and rebloom the plant; it can be applied at a reduced dose spring through summer.
  • After the bracts drop (they can last until May if the plant is exceptionally well cared for), you can rebloom your poinsettia by following the instructions given here.

Decorating with Poinsettias

Group smaller plants together for a more striking display.

The trend for December 2019 is a cheerful Christmas in pastel colors. Poinsettias can be added to other Christmas decorations in various festive styles, from classic red and white to trendy candy colors. The emphasis this year is on the pink, green and apricot shades. Display these modern colors in matching festive pots. 

One original idea is decorate your Christmas tree with mini poinsettias! So do so, remove the roots of these tiny plants from their pots and wrap them in sphagnum in order to prevent them from drying out or place them in the tree in little hanging buckets. 

Another idea? Decorate a large poinsettia with fairy lights as an alternative Christmas tree!


The poinsettia: you really can’t escape it! Every home needs at least one for Christmas!

Text and photos adapted from a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk.
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties

A Note From Your Poinsettia

Standard

Source: terryweaver.com, http://www.uihere.com & http://www.wallquotes.com, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

Hello!

I’m your poinsettia. I’ve been decorating your living room for a few days now and I’d love to do it for a long time to come, but for me to last, I need your help.

Don’t Let Me Drown!

20181211G Karen McCourt, in.pinterest.com

Pot covers may be cute, but they can also be deadly! Source: Karen McCourt, in.pinterest.com

First, a few words about that cute pot cover I’m sold in. I hate it!

True enough, it does make me look pretty, but it also causes me trouble. It’s completely watertight, allowing no drainage whatsoever, so when you water me, any excess water just accumulates and then my roots, which need to breathe air, start to drown and that’s the end of me!

So, could you please remove it or at least punch holes in the bottom, then set me in a plant saucer? That way the water can escape!

Thank you!

Watering

20181211B www.ftd.com.jpg

Check frequently and water me thoroughly. Source: http://www.ftd.com

Second, watering.

I just came out of a huge greenhouse where my watering was automated: I’ve never been exposed to dry soil in my life! As soon as my soil got close to drying, a computer warned the system, and I was carefully inundated with nice warm water. It was heaven!

But there is no automatic watering system in your home. If you let my potting soil dry out, some of my roots will die and since I now have fewer roots, I won’t be able to support as many leaves. So, my lower leaves will turn yellow and fall off and I’ll be less attractive. If you do this a second time, I’ll lose even more leaves, then more again, then even some of my beautiful colored bracts! Sob! I’ll look like a tornado hit me and I just know you’ll toss me!

So, I need your help!

Get in the habit of touching my potting soil every three or four days. Go ahead and shove a finger right into it: that does me no harm whatsoever. If the soil seems damp, everything is fine, but check again in three or four days. If the soil seems dry, water me. Slowly, but abundantly, with tepid water (I hate cold water!), until the excess water starts to drip out of my pot’s drainage holes.

15 minutes after you water, come back and discard any water that remains in my saucer. That will make me so happy!

If you always water me well, I promise to stay in bloom right through the holidays!

Light

20181211C www.ikea.com.jpg

I can put up with shade for a while, but I really prefer sun! Source: www.ikea.com

Now let’s talk about light… and here I’m willing to compromise a bit. I prefer bright light, but I can tolerate a few days, even two or three weeks, with little light. So, yes, you can place me on a coffee table or desk away from any window during the holidays. After all, my role is to decorate your home. But afterwards, place me near a sunny window. Yes, full sun if possible, if not, the brightest conditions you can provide!

If I get a lot of sun in addition to regular watering, I’ll hold on to my bracts for ages, until as late as May or even June!

Other Care

A few more fairly minor details: I’m fine with hot temperatures during the day, but prefer cooler nights. So, if you could lower the thermostat just a bit before you go to bed, to maybe 65 ° F (18 ° C), I’d appreciate it. I’ll be able to sleep better.

And keep me out of cold drafts and away from radiators. Do you like blasts of cold or hot air? I didn’t think so. Well, neither do I!

And don’t feed me yet. Before I was sent to the store where you bought me, I was so heavily fertilized that I’m still full. I mean, Christmas Day turkey full! In fact, I won’t be hungry for a few months yet. In March, when the days get a little longer, that’s when I’ll then start looking for some extra minerals.

Then, just give me a bit of all-purpose fertilizer at each watering. A pinch or two will do: I’m not a greedy plant. Still, I don’t like being starved either.

Extending My Usefulness

Look, if I bloom until May or June, I figure I did my job. I hope you enjoyed my efforts! After that, it seems to me that I will have the right to rest a little. Maintaining colorful bracts is exhausting, so don’t complain if I drop them: you’ll have had your money’s worth.

What, do you want me to bloom again? Hmm. Let me think about it.

You see, that wasn’t part of the contract. The nurseryman who produced me certainly didn’t have that in mind! He saw me as a temporary decoration, something you’d dispose of when I start to decline. However, it’s true that you’ve been nice to me. So … okay, I’m willing to try. But that will require some extra effort on your part.

20181211D UKGardening, www.youtube.com.png

Cut me back severely. Source: UKGardening, http://www.youtube.com

First, when my bracts start to fall off, cut me back severely, to 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) from the soil. Go ahead: it doesn’t hurt me! Instead, it will stimulate me to grow back more densely, so I’ll be even more beautiful next year.

Keep on watering me (never let me dry out!), fertilizing me and giving me the brightest light you can muster. You can even put me outside for the summer. I love that! But bring me back indoors in early fall, before the first frost.

20181211E ENG LH.jpg

I need short days in order to bloom. Source: laidbackgardener.com

I’m now going to reveal you my biggest secret: I only bloom if I have long nights or, if you prefer, short days, that is, days of less than 12 hours. So, from the 22nd of September on, you can no longer keep me in a room that is illuminated at night. Even a few rays of light at the wrong moment can throw off my flowering!

Instead, place me somewhere I get intense sun during the day, but no light at all at night. Maybe you can put me in a guest room and remove all the light bulbs so that no one can turn on a light at night by accident? Or you can stuff me into a closet at six o’clock each evening, then move me back to a sunny spot at 8 am? Whatever works for you, but do give me those short days.

After about 2 months of short days, a little miracle will occur. The new leaves that appear at my top will be colored bracts! Moreover, as soon as I start to change color, you no longer have to worry about providing short days. It’s just to start the color change that I need days less than 12 hours long.

So, you’ve been so good to me that I’m going to give you a present: just do as I say and I’m going to bloom for Christmas next year, just for you! And the year after, and the year after, for as long as you like!

Faithfully yours,

Your beloved poinsettia,

 

20181211F LH.jpg

Unwrap Your Poinsettia Without Delay

Standard

Yes, do make sure your poinsettia is well wrapped against the cold when you bring it back from the store, but don’t leave it in its packaging. Source: http://www.alphapackaging.co.uk

If there is normally no problem leaving plants purchased for Christmas in their wrapping for 4 or 5 days, that’s not the case with the popular Christmas plant known as the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), often offered as a hostess gift during the holiday season. This plant produces ethylene, a toxic gas, and begins to poison itself in as little as 16 hours if there is no or little air circulation, especially at warm temperatures (over 60˚ F/16˚ C).

20181207A www.hydro-orchids.com.jpg

Bracts and leaves can be damaged if left wrapped too long. Source: http://www.hydro-orchids.com

The main symptom of ethylene damage is wilting. When you remove the wrapping, the bracts and leaves look wilted even though the potting mix seems reasonably moist. Soon bracts and leaves start to fall off and the plant, although it is not yet dead, is no longer very presentable.  

If you plan to offer a poinsettia as a gift, either buy it the same day you plan to give it or, if you have to buy it in advance, unwrap it immediately when you get home, then rewrap it just before you leave.

How to Keep your Mini-Poinsettia Alive

Standard

20161204A.jpg

Even in garden centers, mini-poinsettias are usually seen soaking in water.

For the past few years now, mini-poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) have been popping up here and there in garden centers in the weeks preceding Christmas: only about 4 inches (10 cm) high with only 5 to 10 leaves and crowned with a single inflorescence composed of red, pink, white or green bracts, they are so cute you’ll find it hard to resist buying one, especially since their price is generally quite reasonable. But they rarely live more than a week or two once you bring them home. Why do they kick the bucket so quickly?

Not a Real Miniature

20161204D.jpg

Mini-poinsettias are actually standard poinsettias miniaturized by being grown in a tiny pot.

It’s important to understood that these mini-poinsettias don’t come from some new line of genetically dwarf poinsettias. They’re classic Christmas poinsettias that have been miniaturized by rather spartan treatment. In a sense, they are incredibly stressed-out plants! Under normal circumstances, they should easily have been 5 times larger.

 

To produce them, growers take rooted cuttings of standard poinsettia and force them, especially by exposing them to short days, to bloom well before their time. And to prevent the poinsettia from growing normally, they restrict the amount of available potting soil to the minimum necessary for the survival of the small plant. Think of it a bit like the old Chinese tradition of binding a women’s feet to keep them tiny. It works, but leaves the plant weakened.

You see, miniaturization is not the only result of this treatment. There is also a watering problem. The tiny bit of potting soil available is pretty much filled with roots and holds little moisture. And the result is that the plant dries very quickly, even after a thorough watering. Thus, after two or three days in your home, the plant is often already in a severe state of water stress… and death can follow quickly if you don’t water it immediately.

How to keep one alive

To keep these mini-poinsettias alive, you’ll have to break one of the golden rules of indoor plant care. You’ve certainly heard that you should never leave a plant soaking in water after watering, that this necessarily leads to decay, and therefore that you should always empty the plant’s saucer 15 to 20 minutes after watering. Well, for once, pay no heed to that rule. If you want to keep them well-moistened, it’s all right to let these mini-plants soak in a thin layer of water. Then as soon as this water is absorbed or evaporates, water again, always maintaining that thin film of water in the saucer. If the air in your home is dry, you may have to add a little water – although maybe only a spoonful! – every day.

Other Factors

Obviously, since these poinsettias are living plants, they must still be given at least minimal lighting (they actually prefer intense light, but without direct sun in the middle of the day) and temperatures above 50˚ F (10˚C). High relative humidity will also help ensure that your plants won’t dry out, allowing you to space out waterings to once very 2 or 3 days.

Still, always check before you water: it’s only when you don’t see at least little water in the saucer that you have to water again.

Note that it is not necessary to fertilize mini-poinsettias during their stay in such a tiny pot. Your goal at this point is just to keep the plants in the state in which the grower sold them to you, that is just barely alive, not to stimulate growth.

Self-Watering Pots

20161204c

Mini-poinsettias growing in decorative self-watering pots.

Some growers sell their mini-poinsettias not in simple plastic pots, but in a waterproof cache-pot, that is, a decorative container with no drainage hole. If you lift the plant, you’ll discover that it is indeed planted in a small but otherwise normal pot with drainage holes (sometimes called a grow pot), but that the pot is suspended above the bottom of the cache-pot, thus creating a reservoir (watering well) that can hold water.

 

20161204e

Note wick hanging from the grow pot.

You’ll also see that a synthetic fiber wick hangs down from one of the pot’s drainage holes and into the water at the bottom of the well. Thus, the plant can “drink” all it needs without actually soaking in water, since moisture moves up the wick by capillary action, making sure that, as long as the reservoir is never empty, the plant won’t lack moisture.

 

Sometimes you’ll see roots growing down into the reservoir as well. If so, just ignore them: they’re the plant’s way of better ensuring it never dries out.

These “self-watering mini-poinsettias” are more expensive than mini-poinsettias sold in ordinary plastic plots, but are easier to keep alive because it is much less likely they’ll run out of water.

Watering a Self-Watering Plant

It may sound like an oxymoron, you still have to water a self-watering mini-poinsettia. The cache-pot’s watering well is not very deep and the tiny plant’s needs are very large.

But you don’t just water a plant with a watering wick any old way: you have lift its pot out of the cache-pot and check that the well is dry or almost dry. Then pour about ½ inch (1 cm) of water into the well before putting the pot back in place. In other words, you water the well, not the plant.

Never let the wick dry out completely. Otherwise, it may no longer be effective. If ever you find not only that the well is completely empty, but that the wick is dry to the touch, fill the well half full of water and insert the pot into it, thus leaving the plant’s root ball actually soaking in water. After 30 minutes, the wick will have been reactivated and you could empty any surplus water, bringing the water level back to its usual ½ inch (1 cm) level.

After Christmas

Nobody claims you can maintain a mini-poinsettia forever. It’s definitely a temporary plant, and after two or three months, the plant really will begin to fall apart, losing leaves and bracts. Even growers who produce them gently suggest you dispose of yours after Christmas and I agree: the laidback thing to do with this little plant is to put it out of its misery and toss it in the compost.

You want to try to keep yours going anyway? Well you can, but not as a mini-plant. Instead, sometime early in the New Year, first cut off its inflorescence (beheading it will redirect its energy to growing roots and stems rather than just maintaining aging bracts), then plant it in a bigger pot: a 4-inch (10-cm) pot should be fine to start with. (Never go from a small pot to a very large one too quickly; that can lead to rot). Use ordinary potting soil. Now begin watering it the way you would a normal houseplant, that is, by completely soaking the root ball and then waiting until the soil is a bit dry before watering again.

You can also start fertilizing it from about March onwards.

20161204f

In the second year, your mini-poinsettia will have grown to a more normal size.

With this new treatment, the plant will grow considerably, probably producing several branches and larger leaves. During the growing season, moreover, it may be necessary to repot it a second or even a third time, because the plant will grow greatly in size. And in the fall, you’ll have to give it a short-day treatment in order to get it to bloom again.

 

Your poinsettia, of course, will no longer a mini, but a normal size poinsettia, with many more flowers and will, moreover, be much easier to maintain.


The mini-poinsettia: a bit of a challenge, but if you can’t resist its charms, at least you now know how to keep it alive throughout the holiday season!20161204c

A Poinsettia Could Save Your Life

Standard

20161129A.jpgThat popular Christmas plant, the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), is the canary in the coal mine of the houseplant world when it comes to the toxic gas called carbon monoxide (CO).

It reacts reacting negatively to its presence even when humans show no symptoms. If your plant starts losing its leaves and bracts as soon as you bring it home and there seems to br no other reason for this reaction (for other things that can cause poinsettias leaf loss, read Why is My Poinsettia Losing Its Leaves), the level of carbon monoxide in your home may be dangerously high.

If this happens, use a commercially available carbon monoxide detector to check the level of carbon monoxide in your home. If it goes off, leave the house without delay and call 9-1-1!

Your Poinsettia is Sick… But That’s a Good Thing!

Standard

20151206A

In nature, poinsettias are tall shrubs, even small trees.

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has not always been the compact plant we know today. It is actually a large shrub or small tree reaching 12 feet (4 m) or more in height and diameter, far too large for the average home. Thus, for a long time, the only poinsettias sold as Christmas plants were as cut flowers!

In 1923, however, a cut-flower grower from California, Ecke Nursery, noticed a short, compact poinsettia, barely 30 inches (75 cm) high at full maturity. While a normal poinsettia is said to be “restricted branching” and only produces branches about every 2 feet (60 cm) or so along the stem, leading to a very large and open plant, the new poinsettia—said to be “free branching”—produced abundant branches, thus forming what was almost a ball of foliage and flowers.

20151206B

Poinsettia leaf showing symptoms of mosaic virus.

Unfortunately, despite its beautiful shape, the new poinsettia lacked vigor and showed disease symptoms when the least bit stressed—irregular yellow marks on the foliage, called a mosaic—making it essentially unsaleable. Furthermore, other poinsettias in the same greenhouse began to produce plants with the same symptoms. It was quickly assumed that “free branching” effect was in fact due to a disease linked to mottled foliage. Eventually studies did show the marbling was caused by a virus, now called poinsettia mosaic virus (PMV). So the compact poinsettia no longer seemed useful, but was rather seen as a disaster by the burgeoning poinsettia industry. The recommendation at that time was to destroy any compact poinsettias on sight so the disease would not spread to other poinsettias.

An Experiment That Paid Off

The scientists of the time were, however, experimenting with treatments against different mosaics in plants and had discovered that a heat treatment could destroy mosaic viruses. So virus-infected poinsettias were given the heat treatment and voilà! The foliage became a beautiful deep green without any mottling. The virus had been destroyed. But to the amazement of the scientists, the plant remained compact and well branched. What had happened? Studies showed the virus was indeed gone. For a long time, nobody understood what was going on.

Then another experiment turned up very interesting results. When a normal, restricted-branching (i.e. giant) poinsettia was grafted onto a free-branching poinsettia, it too began to branch abundantly and stay compact. Without actually knowing what was going on, poinsettia growers began to convert their large poinsettias into dwarf ones for the potted plant market by grafting them unto dwarf plants. Thus the potted poinsettia industry was born!

A Dwarfing Infection

Today we know that what makes free-branching poinsettias so dwarf and densely branched is a phytoplasma, an organism similar to a bacteria that is found in the tissues of infected plants. Originally, it was transferred to poinsettias coupled with the poinsettia mosaic virus, but since it is temperature resistant, unlike the virus, it was not destroyed by the heat treatment. From the point of view of a wild poinsettia, this phytoplasma would be a disaster. Since the plant remains small and dense, in the wild it would quickly be overtaken by surrounding plants and they would create so much shade that the dwarf poinsettia would be weakened or even shaded out entirely.

20151206C

A potted poinsettia … proudly displaying its dwarfed, phytoplasma-produced habit.

For poinsettia growers, though, the dwarfing phytoplasma is a godsend. It gives short, compact, well branched, and densely flowering plants that are otherwise just as vigorous as a phytoplasma-free poinsettia … and the resulting dwarf poinsettia gave a plant that was now readily accepted by the public as a living Christmas decoration. And to make things even better, greenhouse growers could transfer this phytoplasma to any other poinsettia via grafting. Today all poinsettias sold as potted plants—which is well over 99% of all the 65 million poinsettias produced around the world—are infested with phytoplasma … and no one is complaining.

A Beautiful Disease

When you contemplate the beautiful poinsettia in your living room, with its dense habit and numerous blooms, it’s odd to think it is, in fact, sick. But the phytoplasma is an essentially benign disease and causes no harm to the plant other than leaving if compact and well branched, so no one is complaining! Wouldn’t it be nice if we all suffered from diseases with only beneficial effects!

Reblooming a Poinsettia the Laidback Way

Standard

Poinsettia_2

Your poinsettia looked like this when you bought it…

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) you bought for Christmas last year is probably now a small green shrub… and will remain a small green shrub if you don’t do something about it.

178384display

And probably like this right now.

You see, the poinsettia is a short-day plant, that is to say, it only blooms when days are less than 12 hours long. So its flowering starts to be initiated starting about September 22 in the Northern Hemisphere… and usually actually begins to occur about two months later, well in time for Christmas.

It all sounds wonderful: as days get shorter, the poinsettia should simply bloom naturally, right? Well, that may work in the plant’s native Mexico, or in other tropical countries where it grows outdoors, but it won’t work in the average home.

You see, we light our homes at night, extending the number of hours of daylight to 16, 17, or 18 hours a day. Yet what the plant really requires is no light at all from the end of the afternoon until the following morning. Even a single ray of light at the wrong time and it may not bloom.

So what’s a gardener to do?

The Hard Way

When I first started gardening, I was told you had to put your poinsettia in a closed box or a closet at 4 pm each day and remove it daily, putting it back in the sunlight, at 8 am. And that does work… but what a job! It means you have to be home at the right time each day (forget job considerations, or taking a weekend trip), plus you have to remember to do it every single day, without fail (not my strength: I’m good on resolutions, but weak in followthrough). If you forget even once, the plant won’t bloom. I’d be surprised even one person in 10 gets their poinsettia to bloom that way, yet check out most websites and books: that’s still the usual advice!

The Laidback Way

Here’s how I get my poinsettias (note the plural: I have all kinds, in lots of different colors) to rebloom. It works every time and requires no daily effort.

Place the plant in a room that you don’t usually use at night, but that is at least moderately sunny during the day: a guest room, for example. Now unscrew all the light bulbs in the room. Next, place the poinsettia near the window. Since you removed the light bulbs, even if you enter the room in the evening and try to turn the light on by accident (forgetting that is temporarily forbidden), you simply can’t. Whatever you were looking for in that room, you’ll just have to search for in the dark or wait until daylight to retrieve. And because your poinsettia has had a daily regime of short days, it will necessarily bloom at Christmas.

You don’t have a room that is not used at night? Then place your poinsettia near a sunny window somewhere else indoors and set up a panel of some sort between it and the rest of the room. Even a “wall” of taller houseplants will do, as long as no artificial light reaches the poinsettia. And this will give you a beautifully blooming poinsettia with no extra effort.

Otherwise, continue your usual care through the fall, remembering especially to water when the soil is almost dry and adding a bit of fertilizer. There is no need for special temperatures or extra high humidity… and certainly don’t prune (you’d be cutting off future flowering stems).

Merry Christmas in advance!